Vandals battle, fall to Nevada

Idaho stunned the WAC earlier this year when they beat Nevada in Reno in the conference opener. But Idaho couldn't complete the season sweep, dropping a fierce battle 69-65 to Nevada in front of 2,806 fans at the Cowan Spectrum Saturday night. Junior point guard MAC HOPSON continues his phenominal first season at Idaho, leading the Vandals with 19 points, 8 assists and three steals on the night.

COMMENTARY: There's a reason Nevada is a five-time WAC champion, and there's a reason highly-recruited freshman Luke Babbitt was selected pre-season WAC newcomer of the year. Unfortunately, the nearly 3,000 fans in the Cowan Spectrum Saturday night saw plenty of first-hand evidence as the Wolf Pack came back from a five-point deficit to outscore Idaho 13-4 in the final 4:17 to claim a 69-65 win, maintaining second place with a 6-2 conference record (13-8 overall).

The Vandals slipped to 4-4 in WAC action and 10-11 on the season.

"You've got to give Nevada credit," said Vandal coach Don Verlin. "We get up five with four minutes to go and they out-toughed us. That's the bottom line. Mark (Fox) has done a great job with that team. They did exactly what they do tonight and we didn't stop it. Give Luke Babbitt some credit. When it was time to make some plays he stepped up and made the plays, and then when he got fouled he made the free throws. You don't win five championships in a row and not have a good coach and some good tradition, and Nevada has definitely got that."

The Vandals had a shot at pulling off a shocking sweep against the Wolf Pack despite another poor night at the free throw line. Nevada led most of the way but could not put the game on ice. In what is becoming a trademark, the Vandals put on another scoring burst in the second half to fight back from a four-point deficit with 9:18 left in regulation to take a 55-54 lead on two Kashif Watson free throws. Idaho then extended the lead to 61-56 on a three by Luciano de Souza and a bucket by Brandon Wiley (both set up by Mac Hopson assists).

Nevada then put the ball - and the game - pretty much in Babbitt's hands and the talented freshman responded with a three, a jumper in the paint, and two free throws in a span of three minutes to secure the win (during that span Idaho went ice cold from the floor). Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 19 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. Babbitt led all scorers with 24 points and added 10 rebounds and two assists.


• Right at the end of the first half, with the Wolf Pack leading 33-32, it appeared Idaho had a chance to take the lead when Wiley grabbed a rebound and was fouled as time expired. The officials went to the replay and ruled that time had expired before the foul was committed and waved off the call.

• In the second half with 9:04 to play a foul was called on the Vandals. Both teams substituted and Armon Johnson stepped to the line and sank both ends of a 1 and 1. However, Vandal coaches were off the bench yelling, claiming that Dario Hunt had been fouled and should be shooting. The officials went back to the replay and ruled that Hunt indeed should have been at the line, waved off the two Johnson free throws, and put Hunt at the line with a 1-and-1. Hunt missed the first, but the Vandals were called for a lane violation and Hunt received a substitute free throw. He made it, and also made the second.
Mac Hopson 19 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot. Trevor Morris 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal. Kashif Watson 11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. Brandon Wiley 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, 1 steal. Marvin Jefferson 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot. Luciana de Souza 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals. Terrence Simmons 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal. Luis Augusto 1 rebound.


• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 23 of 59 for 39%; UN 24 of 58 for 41.4%
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 7 of 20 for 35%, UN 5 of 19 for 26.3%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 12 of 19 for 63.2%; UN 16 of 22 for 72.7%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 12 offensive, 21 defensive for 33 total; UN 17 offensive, 27 defensive for 44 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 14, UN 11
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 11, UN 14
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 4, UN 11
• STEALS: Idaho 9, UN 9
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 28, UN 28
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho 6, Nevada 20
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 19, UN 20
• SCORE TIED : Nine times
The Vandals will be off Thursday and will travel to Hawai'I to face the Warriors Feb. 7. Next home action will be against Utah State Feb. 12 and San Jose State Feb 14.

Packed student sections on three sides of the court at the Cowan Spectrum, Idaho vs. Nevada (2009)

Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes

Q: I guess Nevada didn't surprise you with anything. They were pretty big underneath.
DV: You've got to give Nevada credit. We get up five with four minutes to go and they out-toughed us. That's the bottom line. Mark (Fox) has done a great job with that team. They did exactly what they do tonight and we didn't stop it. We held them to 41% from the field. We held them under their three-point field goal percentages, but they pounded us on the boards. We got out-rebounded by 12 and that was the difference in the game. Give Luke Babbitt some credit...When it was time to make some plays he stepped up and made the plays, and then when he got fouled he made the free throws. You don't win five championships in a row and not have a good coach and some good tradition, and Nevada has definitely got that."

Q: Early on your free throws really haunted you again tonight.
DV: It's very frustrating. I don't know what to do to be honest with you. I'm at a loss. We shot our average there and when we won at Nevada we shot 80%. Tonight we shot 63% and I thought that that was a huge, huge difference in the game. I thought it killed some of our runs. I thought it deflated us a little bit emotionally. We've just got to keep shooting ‘em. We've got good shooters and we've just got to keep shooting ‘em."

Q: It seemed like at least in the second half you did a better job of keeping Nevada from doing what they really wanted to do. Can you explain how that happened?
DV: "I don't know if it was anything we did specifically. I thought we did a little bit better job of stopping them in the transition. They got a lot of points in the first half in transition. We made a little adjustment at halftime. We sent three back in the second half, and I thought that slowed ‘em down. We got ‘em more in a half-court game, and I thought there for a stretch, a 10 or 12 minute stretch, we did a great job defensively on all their guys, and were able to make some shots and get a lead. Then they just made some plays down the stretch and we didn't. I don't know how long it was. We felt like we were on that one number forever. I don't know how long it was. I'd have to look at the stats. It felt like we were there forever. It was a great basketball game, and you've got to give Nevada credit. They made the plays. Babbitt, (Armon) Johnson, I thought Dario Hunt blocked a lot of our shots, really frustrated our big guys tonight. They were just tougher than we were. That's really what it comes down to."

Q: One positive thing I'd like you talk about is two nights ago you said you knew Trevor Morris was going to start hitting, and he started hitting tonight.
DV: "That was great. He goes four for seven. He gave us a huge lift early. We've never told Trevor not to shoot it. We've always encouraged him…he is a good shooter. We've been kinda waiting for him to break out. We've been getting extra shots with him and he made some big shots, and obviously 13 points kept us in the game. It kept us in the game, got us our lead. He did a good job tonight, and he played very well defensively. I was happy the way Trevor gave us a huge lift as a senior in this game. That was very good for him."

Q: Looked like you guys came out a little bit more aggressive in the second half, Mac and Kashif kinda taking it to the hole a little more.
DV: "Yeah. I thought we attacked the basket in the first half, to be honest with you, and they blocked some of our shots. As a coach you're always wanting fouls, but you've got to find a way to get fouled or finish it in there, and like I said I thought Dario Hunt and the Nevada players did a great job. Eleven [blocks] on the game but eight at half, and I thought they did a great job of changing our shots around the basket. The second half I thought we were maybe a hair more aggressive, but we finished some at the rim. We got a few more foul calls, and that was kinda the way we got our lead. But I tell you, Babbitt's a dang good player and so is Armon Johnson. I mean, there's a reason why they were voted on the newcomer and first team all-league selections because they're good players."

Q: Did Babbitt have a better game against you this time?
DV: "No question. I thought we did a little bit better job on him the first time. He missed some wide-open shots the first time down there, but he's coming into his own a little bit. He's a freshman and he's getting near the end of his freshman year, and he's just a very talented guy. They did a great job. Mark's done a good job making a few adjustments in his offense getting him the ball down low, getting him fouled a little bit more. He's multi-dimensional. They move him around and do a good job getting him the ball. He gets 16 shots tonight. Mark's doing a good job getting him the ball where he needs to get it to score. He's a handful. He's a good player."

Q: It seemed like your rotation on your zone every now and then was a little off. Was that something they were doing or was that just a missed assignment?
DV: "That's a great point. I thought they did a great job with the ball movement in the first half. When you look at their stats and they're shooting 29% from three, you feel like you zone ‘em. And when we zoned them early they were three for the first three in the zone; so that bothered us a little bit to be honest with you. They did a great job and they started getting behind the zone and hitting the cutter to the basket, and primarily we went man-to-man down the stretch and I thought that was the key to it. But you've got to give them credit. They played well against the zone at Utah State and against us, and you've got to give Mark and the coaching staff credit. They got it into some areas that we didn't defend very well."

Q: Coach the stakes…obviously if you'd won this game you'd have been pretty much alone in second place. I'm sure your guys understood that.
DV: "Oh yeah. We understood it. (laughing) When you're picked ninth you understand that, I'll tell you.

Q: I mean, could you feel a little more energy from the crowd and from your players a little bit? It felt like it was even more than the Boise State game.
DV: "Yeah. I thought the crowd was great again tonight. Like I told you in the meeting room here, our guys, I thought they were ready to play. I thought they competed hard. Nevada is a good team. Yeah. It was a big game. I told our players this the last two days: Boise State was a huge game for our fans and for our program, but the most important game this week was Nevada, because they were ahead of us in the standings, and that's the way you have to look at it. Rivalry games are great to win, but man. You've gotta beat the guys that are above you in the standings if you're gonna end up on the top, and that's obviously our goal. We just didn't quite get that done tonight."

Kashif Watson, post-game quotes

Q: That was kind of a frustrating night for you.
KW: "It was frustrating. We all came out, came off with the mind set that we were going to win - pressure them out of their sets. They executed at the end. They executed and they came out with a big win."

Q: Was it pretty physical out there? It looked like everyone was pushing each other a lot.
KW: "Yeah. Coach told us it was going to be a physical game. Playing Nevada is always going to be physical. They're a big, physical team. It's the WAC. The ref's aren't going to call a lot of fouls. We knew it was going to be a physical game and we just had to be ready for it."

Q: Talk about (Luke) Babbitt, especially right after you guys kinda took a lead. It seemed like he wanted the ball and was able to score.
KW: "I watched a lot of film on Nevada. They always seem to give it to Babbitt at the last five minutes so he can try to take the game over. In Nevada we slowed him down right there at the five-minute mark. We didn't let him get anything really the whole game when we were in Nevada, but tonight we knew they were gonna go at him. We were only up by five; so they were gonna start trying to give him the ball. We recognized it earlier, though. We've just got to prepare for it. He's a good player and he just took over."

Q: What were some of the differences between tonight and at Nevada besides Babbitt taking over? Was it the same sort of game or did you see a lot of differences tonight?
KW: "It was the same kind of game. We didn't execute a lot (the way) coach wanted us to. A lot of sets on defense we were coming and we just weren't prepared really, but they're a good team. They came out and they executed. That's what Nevada does. We had to slow them down and we couldn't."

Q: Were you guys tired at all after the Boise State game?
KW: "Coach V (Verlin) was trying to keep a lot of fresh legs on the court. He knew it was the second of two games in three days. Coach V tried to keep us fresh, but we weren't really tired. We've just got to be mentally focused a little bit more, and we'll be all right."

Q: You and Mac (Hopson) took the ball to the hole pretty hard in the second half. Was that something that you adjusted at halftime or was that just playing your game?
KW: "At halftime coach pulled us aside and told us that we needed to go at them a little more, get them more in foul trouble because the bigs were just doing whatever they wanted down there, so he told us to go at ‘em more, shot fake like you're jumping and stuff; so coach told us to keep going to the basket, keep going hard and we'll get fouls."

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